Tag Archives: Galatians 3:19-20

Exploration of the Trinity – Part 4 – “One God” and the New Testament

Where are we headed?

  • We took a few weeks to understand ancient Jewish monotheism.
  • We saw the richness of its landscape.


We also got a small taste of some of the weird stuff that exists within this Jewish monotheism.

  • Divine Agency, Visible/Invisible YWHW, and Two Powers in Heaven.


We now need to establish if the NT continues to affirm ancient Jewish monotheism.

  • And find out if it flattens out the weird Biblical landscape present in the OT.
  • Doing so will give us yet another piece of the ever-growing Biblical landscape relevant to our Trinity study.



NT Monotheism:

As we survey the NT’s monotheism passages, we need to remember what OT monotheism affirmed.

  • (1) YHWH is Israel’s elohim.
  • (2) YHWH is unique and incomparable among all the elohim.
  • (3) YHWH alone is to be worshipped.


There are seven significant passages.

  • We will quickly look at five and then dive deep into a sixth – Gal. 3:19-20.
  • We will save the seventh – 1 Cor. 8:6 – for a later lesson.


Quick take texts:

  • Ephesians 4:4–6 (ESV) — 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
  • Mark 12:29 (ESV) — 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
  • Romans 3:29–30 (ESV) — 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
  • 1 Timothy 2:5–6 (ESV) — 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
  • James 2:19 (ESV) — 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!


All of these affirm ancient Jewish monotheism.

  • They do so with similar language – “one God”, “the Lord is one”, “God is one” and “there is one God”.


And some of them affirm the “oneness” of God while affirming the “oneness” of “one Lord” and “one mediator”.

  • It seems odd to affirm that Jesus is one.
  • But remember, “oneness” refers to uniqueness and incomparability.
  • The question we will deal with in a later lesson is do the NT writers see Jesus’ uniqueness as consisting of the same uniqueness as the Father’s.


For now, let’s deal with Galatians.



Galatians 3:18-20:

18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.


The context of this passage is the law vs. the promise.

  • Paul is showing the superiority of the promise made to Abraham.
  • It came before the law and it was “by promise”.


He contrasts the promise made to Abraham with the law.

  • He says the law was “added because of transgressions” (vs. 19).
  • And was temporary – “until the offspring should come” (vs. 19).


And then the weird bit.

  • The law, he says, “was put in place through angels by an intermediary” (vs. 19).
  • Angels and an intermediary?
  • What is all this about?


But then comes the even weirder bit – verse 20.

  • A verse that is notoriously difficult to figure out.
  • Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one” (vs. 20).


How difficult?

  • Highly respected New Testament scholar Dan Wallace says this about verse 20: It is a “real problem”.
  • “Why does Paul add this? How does it in any way contribute to his argument?”
  • He jokes that there must be 300 interpretations of verse 20.
  • He even concedes that the meaning of Paul’s argument here may be “lost to us” – Dan Wallace.


But, importantly, he does believe that it has something to do with the Shema.

  • Which is why we are dealing with this passage.


So, what we want to explore is:

  • Who is the intermediary in this passage?
  • Why does the intermediary require that Paul affirm the Shema?



First – What We Know:

The event that Paul is referring to in our Galatians passage is the giving of the law.

  • An event that took place on Sinai.


The Bible has much to say about what happened on Sinai and who was involved.

  • We know that YHWH was involved.
  • We know angels were involved.
  • We know Moses was involved.
  • We know Israel was involved.


We can illustrate how they all related to each other:

  • YHWH –to– Angels –to– Moses –to– Israel.


In other words, the law originated with YHWH.

  • And it ultimately was given to Israel.
  • But it was apparently delivered through Angels to Moses.
  • So we have, in effect, two intermediaries – Angels and Moses.


A quick survey of some relevant texts will bear this out.

  • Acts 7:53 (ESV) — 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
  • Hebrews 2:2 (ESV) — 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution,
  • Leviticus 26:46 (ESV) — 46 These are the statutes and rules and laws that the Lord made between himself and the people of Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai.
  • John 1:17 (ESV) — 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.


These texts clearly teach us that:

  • Both angels and Moses were intermediaries between YHWH and Israel on Sinai.
  • The Bible has much to say about the nature of Moses’ mediation.
  • But, we are not told the nature of the Angels’ mediation (at least in the above texts).
  • More on that later.


There is one more important bit of relevant information that comes from Stephen in Acts.

  • Acts 7:35–38 (ESV) — 35 “This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man [Moses] God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 This man [Moses] led them out, performing wonders and signs in Egypt and at the Red Sea and in the wilderness for forty years. 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one [Moses] who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.


Stephen tells us something rather remarkable.

  • The Angel of YHWH was present at Sinai.
  • And He “spoke to him [Moses] at Mount Sinai”.


This is a new wrinkle that has to be accounted for in the events on Sinai.

  • Here is our illustration: YHWH –to– Angels –to– Moses –to– Israel.
  • Where does the Angel of YHWH fit into this?
  • We will find out.



Second – Identifying Paul’s Intermediary:

Let’s look at the relevant part of Gal. 3:19-20 again.

  • 19b and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.


Remember, we are trying to answer two questions about this text.

  • Who is the intermediary in this passage?
  • Why does the intermediary require that Paul affirm the Shema?


Having looked at all the players involved at Sinai, we are left with three choices.

  • (1) Moses.
  • (2) Angels.
  • (3) Angel of YWHW.


Michael Heiser helps bring some clarity.

“This verse can either mean that the angels handed the law to an intermediary (i.e., Moses) who then gave it to the Israelites, or an intermediary among the angels handed the law to Moses. In the former case (in which Moses is the intermediary), the text does not actually say that angels gave the law to him. If Moses was the intermediary, then, it is still unclear whether angels, or an angelic figure, mediated the law. According to the latter case, an angelic figure was the intermediary”


So he describes two options.

  • Let’s look at our illustration again to flesh this out.
  • YHWH –to– Angels –to– Moses –to– Israel.
  • Heiser says Paul is speaking of two possible scenarios within this illustration.


Option 1 – Paul is describing the “Angels –to– Moses” scenario.

  • In which case Moses is the intermediary Paul is talking about.


But, he notes, if this is the case, the text doesn’t actually say the angels gave it to him.

  • It still could be the angels or an intermediary from the angels.
  • through angels by an intermediary” (vs. 3:19).


Option 2 – Paul is describing only the “Angels” scenario.

  • In other words, the intermediary was an intermediary from the Angels.
  • This intermediary – an intermediary from the angels – gave the law to Moses.
  • through angels by an [angel] intermediary


And who might this Angel that came out from the angels be?

  • The best Scriptural candidate* is Stephen’s angel, the one that spoke to Moses on Sinai.
  • The Angel of YHWH.
  • (*Some 2nd Temple texts identify this angel as Michael.)


So which is it – option (1) or option (2)?

  • Is Paul’s intermediary Moses or the Angel of YHWH?
  • Or a different option altogether – Angels generically?


Identifying the intermediary will show us why this passage…

  • Is part of the rich and varied Biblical landscape relevant to our Trinity study.




Most see Moses as Paul’s Galatians intermediary.

  • The NLT represents this most common interpretation.
  • God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people”.


There are at least 3 problems with Moses as the intermediary.

  • Together they provide a reasonable, cumulative case against Moses.
  • We will see other evidence later.


(1) The problem with the NLT translation, specifically, is that Moses is not in the Greek text.

  • And more widely relevant is the fact that there is no mention of Moses anywhere in Galatians.


(2) It also may be significant that the only other time Paul uses the word (mesites – μεσίτης)…

  • He does not refer to a human.
  • 1 Timothy 2:5 (ESV) — 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,


(3) Finally, the biggest problem is that Moses at Sinai would not have been a threat to the uniqueness of YHWH – the monotheism Paul is affirming/defending in verse 20.

  • Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one” (vs. 20)



  • Moses was neither an elohim, nor was he unique and incomparable, as defined by the OT.


Michael Heiser puts it this way.

  • “Why would Paul feel the need to clarify that God’s uniqueness wasn’t disturbed by this intermediary if it was just Moses?” – Michael Heiser.
  • Good point!


Heiser says in verse 20, Paul is “clarifying…the intermediary” – Michael Heiser.

  • (1) It must be an intermediary that could be seen as jeopardizing “God is one” (vs. 20).
  • (2) Yet, at the same time, it must be an intermediary that “does not violate God’s ‘oneness,’ as articulated in the Shema” – Michael Heiser.


He expands on this logic:

“If Moses was the intermediary, Paul would not need to reaffirm God’s oneness. But if the intermediary was an angel—even an angel giving the law—this qualification would make sense” – Michael Heiser.


Moses is simply not a candidate for this type of intermediary.

  • He is a human and not an elohim (while on Sinai).


So we have two choices left.

  • Angels
  • Angel of YHWH




Are angels the intermediary Paul is referring to?


About this, Dan Wallace makes the following comment:

“If Paul is arguing that the angels were more than ‘official eyewitnesses’, then he is telling us that they functioned as perhaps some kind of go-between [intermediary] between Moses and YHWH in the giving of the law. If so, then Paul cannot be thinking of the giving of the ten commandments primarily because there was direct contact between Moses and YHWH [Deut. 9:10] on that occasion” – Dan Wallace.


In other words…

  • Wallace has just added a new wrinkle.
  • He says angels can’t be Paul’s “intermediary” as it relates to the law delivered on Sinai.
  • In fact, if angels were Paul’s “intermediary”, then Paul would be talking about an event other than the giving of the law at Sinai.


He gives two reasons for this.

  • (1) The angel’s role at Sinai was that of an eyewitness.
    • The law came through them in that they were eyewitnesses to it.
  • (2) Moses received the law directly from YHWH [Deut. 9:10].
    • More on this in a moment.


Where does Wallace get the idea about the angels as eyewitnesses?

  • Deuteronomy 33:1–4 (ESV) — 1 This is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the people of Israel before his death. 2 He said, “The Lord came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones [angels], with flaming fire at his right hand. 3 Yes, he loved his people, all his holy ones were in his hand; so they followed in your steps, receiving direction from you, 4 when Moses commanded us a law, as a possession for the assembly of Jacob.


The LXX (the main OT text for NT writers) is even clearer:

  • It has verse 2 as, “He made haste from Mount Paran with ten thousands of Kadesh, at his right, his angels with him” – Michael Heiser.


Ancient Jewish Rabbi’s reference Psalm 68:17 when they say (Tehillim 68:18):

  • “When the Holy One revealed Himself on Mount Sinai, twenty-two thousand angels descended on Him, as it is written, ‘God’s chariot includes twice ten thousand, thousands of angels’”.


From all this info, we can identify the angels’ role at Sinai.

  • They were not Paul’s “intermediary”.


They were part of the elohim that participated in God’s divine council (Heiser).

  • Much more can be said of this.
  • Suffice it to say that the OT connection between the council, God and mountains is huge.


Here is one further example of this connection.

  • Psalm 68:15–18 (ESV) — 15 O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan; O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan! 16 Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain, at the mount that God desired for his abode, yes, where the Lord will dwell forever? 17 The chariots of God are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary. 18 You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.


So, the point is that, in their role as part of the divine council, the angels were, in effect, covenant witnesses (Heiser).

  • The angels were “at God’s right hand [Deut. 33 LXX]— the position of authority— witnessing the giving of the law to Israel” – Michael Heiser.
  • This was the nature of their mediation.


Moreover, we know the angels weren’t Paul’s “intermediary” from the logic of Gal. 3:19.

  • In verse 19, Paul makes a distinction between “through angels” and “by an intermediary”.
  • “Angels” is plural and “intermediary” is singular.


This distinction is part of the point Heiser was making earlier in our discussion.

  • Paul’s intermediary appears to have come out of the angels.
    • Out of the elohim of the divine council.


So where does that leave us?

  • It leaves us with our third choice – Angel of YHWH.


As we read through the relevant passages…

  • We need to remember the Visible/Invisible YHWH info from last week.



Angel of YHWH:

Deuteronomy gives us this nugget:

  • Deuteronomy 9:9–11 (ESV) — 9 When I went up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord made with you [Israel], I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water. 10 And the Lord [YWHW] gave me the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God [Elohim], and on them were all the words that the Lord [YHWH] had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. 11 And at the end of forty days and forty nights the Lord [YHWH] gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant.


Here Moses tells us that:

  • YHWH/Elohim literally spoke, wrote and gave him the two tablets of stone.
  • The tablets were written (a physical act) with the “finger of God”.
  • Moses went up Sinai with no tablets – he came down with two literal tablets.
  • How did YHWH write on stone?


Michael Heiser describes the significance of this passage:

“This language is by now very familiar— the language of human physicality (‘finger’) applied to Yahweh. This is the stock description of the second Yahweh, the Angel” – Michael Heiser.


He says this is why the Bible does not hesitate to point to the role of Angels at Sinai.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise that the New Testament speaks of angelic mediation for the law— it was written by the Angel who is God in the presence of council members (‘the holy ones’) and then dispensed to Israel through Moses” – Michael Heiser.


But wait…there is more…again!


We need to look at Stephen’s passage again in light of Deuteronomy 9 that we just read.

  • Acts 7:37–38 (ESV) — 37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’ 38 This is the one [Moses] who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. He received living oracles to give to us.


Remember the blurred lines we talked about last week?

  • Here they are again.
  • Deuteronomy says it was YHWH that spoke on Sinai.
  • Stephen says it was “the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai” (vs. 38).




So, now we can make sense of Galatians 3:19-20 and Paul’s affirmation of monotheism.

  • Let’s go back to our illustration of the players involved at Sinai.
  • YHWH –to– Angels –to– Moses –to– Israel.


Remember, Heiser said Paul could be saying one of two things when speaking of the intermediary.

  • (1) He is referring to the “Angels –to– Moses” bit.
    • In which case, Moses is the intermediary.
  • (2) Or Paul is referring to just the “Angels” bit.
    • In which case, the Angel of YHWH is the intermediary from the “Angels” to Moses.


The textual evidence aligns itself with option 2.


So, we can rewrite our illustration of what happened on Sinai to account for this.

  • YHWH –to– Angel of YHWH (who spoke God’s word) –to– Moses –to– Israel.


BTW – There is a striking parallel to this illustration in the NT with the Gospel message.

  • YHWH –to– Son of God (who spoke God’s word) –to– Apostles –to– Israel/Nations.


And remember, we said that to make sense of Paul’s intermediary and his need to affirm the Shema in the presence of the intermediary…

  • (1) It must be an intermediary that could be seen as jeopardizing “God is one” (vs. 20).
  • (2) Yet, at the same time, it must be an intermediary that “does not violate God’s ‘oneness,’ as articulated in the Shema” – Michael Heiser.


There is only one candidate that fits this bill.

  • The Angel of YHWH.


So, “the intermediary is Yahweh in human form” – Michael Heiser.

  • This is the visible YHWH we learned about last week.
  • The Angel of YHWH.


When Paul says, “Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one” (vs. 20)

  • He is affirming that the uniqueness and incomparability of YWHW is not in jeopardy.
  • The intermediary was YHWH – the visible YWHW – the Angel of YHWH.


Now we can see why the Galatians passage presents us with a crucial piece of the Biblical landscape.

  • We have Paul affirming the Shema while affirming plurality in YHWH.
  • Something that it is confirmed by Stephen’s vision before he was stoned.
  • The NT does not flatten out the OT landscape we have explored.